SEC IS SUPREME…
… Trinamul victorious without vote!
CALCUTTA High Court has upheld a constitutional certitude by reaffirming the primacy of the State Election Commission in the matter of panchayat/municipal elections. The position of the SEC or any constitutional entity is explicitly stated, however much the Mamata Banerjee government might delude itself. Another feature of last Thursday&’s order of the Division Bench (coram: Arun Mishra, CJ; and Joymalya Bagchi, J) that will be generally welcomed is that it comes close to three weeks before the rural polls… and not when the process is underway, as originally decreed. The air has been cleared on what ought to have been deemed by the ruling party as a constitutional prerogative. With respect, it would be presumptuous to talk in terms of a “judicial review” if the SEC is “arbitrary, whimsical and capricious”. It needs to be underlined that the commission had to move court in the face of a decidedly overbearing, even bullheaded, stance of the state government, notably its panchayat minister Subrata Mukherjee, though considerably chastened over the past fortnight. The need for 800 companies of Central security forces was based on the volatile conditions in rural Bengal, most importantly after the Saradha collapse and the very possible resurgence of Maoist violence.
Of far greater concern must be the fact that there never was a tryst with democracy so farcical, as manifest in the violent prologue to the first phase on 2 July. The election has been rigged even before the first ballot has been cast and the state-sponsored fiasco surpasses the rigging of the West Bengal assembly election in 1972. Indeed, the vote has been reduced to irrelevance with Miss Banerjee&’s ruling party winning 95 per cent of the 5259 uncontested seats in the nine districts where elections are scheduled to be held in the first phase. Extensive mayhem had marked the nomination process. Thus did the ruling party ensure that rivals would not be able to file their papers. The claim that the CPI-M was unable to nominate a sufficient number of women candidates can be accepted with a modified “yes”. Equally, does it camouflage the core problem of Trinamul threats and bloody strife. The scale of victory would have been hilarious were it not for the profound impact on electoral politics and rural governance. The CPI-M, over time, had denuded its watershed achievement of the Eighties ~ the creation of the three-tier panchayati raj. Trinamul Congress ~ almost as a logical corollary ~ has severely damaged the elected foundation of rural governance, a process commenced by the Left. In retrospect, the security beef-up was essential during the nomination phase. The exemplars are portentous enough, and the outlook for the second and third phases doesn’t inspire confidence.
DUBIOUS SNOOP CELL
Shut-down no ‘closure’
INFORMALLY the Technical Support Division of the Army ceased to function after the previous Chief demitted office, when a substantial increase in the spending of Military Intelligence was “flagged” by bureaucrats of the defence ministry. Now a high-level but in-house probe by a lieutenant-general has recommended that the unit be disbanded. For the inquiry has confirmed that high-tech equipment procured to monitor cell-phone/wireless communication across the Line of Control in Jammu and Kashmir had been “abused” ~ allegedly on instructions from the former Chief&’s office ~ to snoop on high-ranking civil and military officials, and probably political leaders too. Two of the “off-air” phone interceptors have been destroyed. Because they contained incriminating data? And for what purpose were the extra funds utilised by Military Intelligence? When the functioning of the previous Chief became the subject of more than bazaar gossip after his bid to have his date of birth “corrected” did not click, rumours ran rife about those phone-interceptors having been deployed in the vicinity of South Block ~ even the defence minister&’s office had to be “swept” for bugs. That fitted into the pattern of a series of controversial, reckless moves by the ex-Chief to “take on” the government.
The confirmation of the illicit snooping cannot be written off as a case of “all&’s well that end&’s well”. The very basis of the military functioning under civilian control ~ let&’s not be diverted into the fauji argument over whether civilian control amounts to bureaucratic control ~ is threatened when the military crosses that sacred line in any democratic set-up. The military cannot be permitted to use underhand means, and equipment for which the citizen has paid, to gather material with which it can blackmail its Constitutionally-empowered superiors ~ or indeed those defence officers who the “brass” might find inconvenient. The potential for such mischief, to put it mildly, is truly horrific. A key task of the present Chief has been to undo the damage caused by his predecessor, and the winding up of the TSD is a case in point. It is, alas, much too grave a matter to be settled by a mere shutdown, or some in-house action. The setting up of the TSD and its functioning require more comprehensive scrutiny, and truly deterrent action against retired and serving personnel. There can no tolerating, or permitting repetition, of a pernicious attempt to tamper with the military balance. Will UPA-II “chicken out” yet again?
Greek PM&’s bizarre austerity
THE political revolt in Greece over the Prime Minister&’s decision to close the 75-year-old state television ~ the Hellenic Broadcasting Corporation (ERT) ~ is bound to deepen the crisis that confronts the country. What has been packaged as a move to check the “waste” of tax-payers’ money has been greeted by stout opposition from the political class and Greeks at large. It is more than obvious that Antonis Samaras has not been able to convince the country, or even Europe. The move has triggered international condemnation, with the European Broadcasting Union urging the Prime Minister to reconsider. The European Commission has made it clear that it did not seek ERT&’s closure under the bailout; France has dubbed the decision as “very worrying and regrettable”. The purported austerity measure has been as quirky as it is arbitrary, with news presenters being cut off mid-sentence! However tough the conditions for a bailout, it shan’t be easy for Greece or the libertarian continent to acquiesce in the closure of the state broadcaster, unwittingly enough a muffling of the media. Small wonder that the demonstrations in Athens have underlined the threat to press freedom. While the need for austerity is not disputed, the decision is doubtless a somewhat bizarre reduction of public spending. There will be few takers for Mr Samaras’ express objective that the move is intended to pacify Greece&’s international lenders and demonstrate the government&’s willingness to move ahead with reforms in the debt-plagued nation. The Prime Minister didn’t quite anticipate the almost instant popular revulsion. As examples of profligacy, the government has cited the three orchestras, whose members are paid as civil servants. and the 19 provincial radio stations which broadcast only four hours of original programmes each day. For all that, Mr Samaras is under fire over what the members of the centre-left coalition have trashed as a unilateral decision, one that was announced without a public debate. Far from shoring up the economy, the decision could have a damaging political impact considering the caveat advanced by his coalition partners ~ “We will be forced to go to new elections and he will bear the responsibility for this.”